Skip to content

Viewpoint: Meaningful public engagement vital

by Karen Skadsheim Meaningful civic engagement is vital, especially on large decisions that will impact this community and the environment for years to come.

by Karen Skadsheim Meaningful civic engagement is vital, especially on large decisions that will impact this community and the environment for years to come.

Case in point is the liquid waste management plan (LWMP), a process that was started by City of Powell River council in 1998. The first two stages were completed fairly quickly, and the Stage 2 plan calling for a publicly-owned consolidated treatment plant to be built on the old waste transfer site was approved by the ministry of environment (MOE) in 2004.

Stage 3, however, has been dragging on because the option of co-treatment keeps appearing on the table despite clear public rejection. The 2011 report on the Stage 3 public consultation conducted by an independent facilitator concluded that:

“The community clearly is asking to be consulted more frequently and at the outset of these projects so that they can understand the issue and be better able to provide quality feedback to the decision makers. Trust, however, has become a casualty of this process as it has unfolded. The perception of a ‘done deal’ [for co-treatment] has reinforced the feeling of a lack of honesty, transparency and accountability which the community is clearly concerned about. They see this as especially troubling when combined with the spectre of increased taxation.”

Critics of the LWMP public consultation discount the process, claiming low turnout at the consultation events. This is precisely why more and better communication must happen before any plan is sent to MOE for final approval.

In June 2013, the LWMP steering committee set forth a timeline that included, among other things, a town hall meeting in September 2013 to present the Stage 3 plan before sending it to council and then to MOE for approval. Unfortunately, none of this public communication occurred. On April 17, council was presented with Draft 6 of the Stage 3 plan (two other drafts were apparently revised in the interim without input or direction from either the steering or joint local-technical advisory committees). That same day, Paul Klopping’s long-awaited consultant’s report on the feasibility of co-treatment was also received and no one—not staff or the steering committee or council—had reviewed it, and yet the Stage 3 plan was on the table to be sent to MOE. Among other things, this draft also included use of the old mill clarifier despite public outcry and despite the fact that council had passed a resolution to remove it from consideration.

Stage 3 is the final stage of this process. Once MOE approves the plan, there is no real guarantee that we won’t be forced to proceed with it. Informal, closed-door assurances don’t replace the need for due process and transparency when dealing with the public. This latest draft is more than 250 pages and is significantly different from the last publicly available plan.

I hope the steering committee will make every effort to have meaningful public discourse on this plan as it is an important document that will affect this community for years to come. The public must understand exactly what is being proposed, what the risks and expected costs are, and accept the plan before it is sent to MOE.

Karen Skadsheim writes on behalf of Townsite Ratepayers Association and is the president and treasurer of the group. She attended council as a delegation for the association on April 17. A transcript of her speech delivered at the meeting is available here.